Tag Archives: South Korea

On the effectiveness of intergroup apologies

By Kevin R. Betts

A common theme of my previous posts concerns intergroup conflict and its resolution. Some conflicts I have examined include clashes in Bangkok between anti-government protestors and the Thai government, relations between the LAPD and bicycle commuters, immigrant relations in Arizona, conflict on the Korean peninsula, and reciprocal determinants of terrorist and counterterrorist actions. The nature of these conflicts is complex, and accordingly, the interventions I proposed have sometimes been complex as well. But a recent article by Blatz and Philpot (2010) suggests that some of these conflicts may not require complex solutions. Rather, a simple public apology may sometimes be all that is needed to restore peace.

Blatz and Philpot (2010) suggest that intergroup apologies can improve intergroup attitudes, restore trust, and promote forgiveness. Additionally, they identify nine moderators (intentionality, time since harm, severity, privity, costliness, time since apology, trust, power, and identification) and four mediators (remorse, sincerity, empathy, and assigning responsibility) that influence apology-outcome relationships. Although it is beyond the scope of this brief post to examine all of these factors, one can imagine how each might relate to the conflicts discussed above. Take whether or not the perpetrators intended to harm the victim (intentionality) as an example. This past summer, I wrote about an incident where an LAPD officer was filmed kicking a bicycle commuter during the monthly mass bicycling event Critical Mass. As an organization, the LAPD reacted to this incident by condemning the actions of the officer and expressing their support of lawful bicycle commuting. Framing this incident as unreflective of the LAPD as an organization (unintentional) may have aided their attempt to restore relations with bicycle commuters in the city. In contrast, intergroup apologies should be less effective when transgressions are clearly intentional. For example, the North Korean government openly takes credit for their recent attack on the South Korean island of Yeonpyeong. Although an official apology is certainly warranted for this attack, it is unlikely to be effective in achieving the immediate forgiveness of South Koreans.

Clearly, not all intergroup conflicts can be resolved with an apology. What should be taken from this research is that when certain conditions are met, the power of a simple public apology for improving intergroup attitudes, restoring trust, and promoting forgiveness should not be underestimated.

Read more

Blatz, C.W., & Philpot, C. (2010). On the outcomes of intergroup apologies. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 4, 995-1007.

Destruction on island at center of Korean barrage (CNN)

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A children’s peace force in the Koreas

By Kevin R. Betts

I stumbled across an interesting news story this weekend that detailed a 13 year old Korean American’s ambitious goal to restore peace between North and South Korea. His name is Jonathan Lee, and he is the founder of I.C.E.Y. H.O.P.E., a youth humanitarian environmental group that seeks to convince North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-il to plant a children’s peace force in the demilitarized zone that separates the two Koreas. Lee says, “What I would really like, if possible, like maybe the children from both countries could be able to meet and play with each other. Like a big playground.”

The contact hypothesis predicts that Lee’s efforts should result in at least some success. In general, the contact hypothesis suggests that interpersonal contact is the most effective way of reducing biases among conflicting groups (Wagner, Tropp, Finchilescu, & Tredoux, 2008). And although Lee’s efforts are geared toward children who may not yet have developed these biases, positive benefits may be seen in the unprejudiced views of these children as they age, as well as the views of watchful Korean nationals who observe this contact. However, for contact to truly be effective, research tells us that it must occur amid certain conditions. First, contact must be between equal status groups. If one country’s children are treated as subordinate to those of the other country, contact is unlikely to yield positive outcomes. Second, the two groups must share common goals. For children, one common goal may be as simple as having fun. For adults, these goals may revolve around reducing tensions among North and South Koreans in later generations. Third, intergroup cooperation must be present. For efforts at peace to be effective, cooperation on both sides of the Koreas is necessary. Fourth, authorities, law, or custom must support this intergroup contact. For Lee’s ambitious goals to stand a chance, both North and South Korean leaders must support his attempts.

The results of Lee’s efforts remain to be seen. Yet, the consistency of these efforts with the contact hypothesis gives us reason to be hopeful. Peace between North and South Korea still remains possible.

Read more:

Korean-American teenager shares ambitious peace plan

Wagner, U., Tropp, L.R., Finchilescu, G. & Tredoux, C. (Eds.). (2008). Improving intergroup relations: Building on the legacy of Thomas F. Pettigrew. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

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